The Weekly Standard mentality and the Senate Intelligence Committee

A bipartisan Senate bill is grounded in the belief that good corporate citizens obey orders from the president even when the ordered actions are against the law.

Published October 19, 2007 9:16AM (EDT)

(updated below)

Every now and then, a right-wing pundit says something that illustrates the underlying mentality of their movement so vividly that it is worth pausing and briefly examining. In responding to one of my posts on telecom amnesty, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb explains the obligations of patriotic corporate citizens in America:

[I]f federal agents show up at a corporate headquarters for a major American company and urgently seek that company's officers for assistance in the war on terror, the companies damn well ought to give it as a matter of simple patriotism, whether the CIA wants a plane for some extraordinary rendition or help in tracking terrorists via email. . . . [T]o expect a company to resist a plea from the government for help in a time of war is ridiculous.

So when "federal agents" come knocking at your door and issue orders, you better "damn well" obey -- you had better not "resist" -- otherwise we'll lose our freedoms. As always, the heart of "patriotism," in the Weekly Standard worldview, is blind faith in our Leaders. [The one other time we looked at Goldfarb, he was insisting that in wartime, the President must wield what he called "near dictatorial power"]. Goldfarb goes on to say:

The companies affected by the new draft Senate bill acted in the interests of their country when they decided to comply with the government's requests. If the requests were inappropriate, that's another matter.

Of course, the whole point here is that the government's "request" was "inappropriate" due to one small, annoying, technical reason: spying on Americans without warrants is against the law -- many laws, actually -- and is a felony. But as always, for The Weekly Standard warriors, annoyances of the "law" are no match for the Overriding Imperatives of the Epic War of Civilization against Islamofascism:

To subject them to the whimsy of our judicial system would be outrageous.

As an act of "good faith," the government has no choice but to deny a bunch of litigious lefties the chance to sue over a decision that any reasonable American would have made.

It is indeed tragic -- "outrageous," actually -- when people and companies who break the law are "subject to the whimsy of our judicial system." As I wrote the other day, the belief that government officials and corporations (rather than just immigrants) should actually be required to abide by the "law" really is now the Hallmark of the "Far Leftist":

As our Congress works heroically to make permanent the vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers it vested in the President two months ago and to protect the corporations which allowed warrantless surveillance in violation of the Leftist doctrine called "law," it is clearly understood in the Beltway that only the fringe Leftists -- the shrill partisan "activists" -- actually subscribe to this radical new agenda of "warrants," as well as the accompanying extremist doctrines such as the "rule of law."

And while Goldfarb's explicit heel-clicking mentality may be easily mocked, it is hardly rare. To the contrary, the vast majority of the Senate Intelligence Committee seems to share it, as the telecom amnesty bill for which they overwhelmingly voted yesterday (13-2) is based on precisely the same lawless, authoritarian mindset espoused by The Weekly Standard.

Because the actual bill was not publicly available, there was some confusion yesterday as to exactly what the Committee's telecom amnesty provided -- i.e., whether it granted full and automatic immunity (as I indicated) or whether it first required a demonstration in court that the government's "requests" to the telecoms were actually legal (as some in comments and elsewhere suggested). Although the draft bill is still not publicly available, the Committee last night released a summary of its bill and it makes clear just how automatic and complete the amnesty is:

* The bill provides narrowly circumscribed immunity to companies that may have participated in the warrantless surveillance program from 9/11 until it was placed under FISA court authorization in January 2007.

*The bill requires a certification to the court by the Attorney General that the company's participation was pursuant to a written request or directive of the Attorney General or intelligence agency head or deputy head and was part of program authorized by the President and determined to be lawful.

Thus, as long as the telecoms were "directed" by a Bush official to allow warrantless spying (which they were) and as long as the President authorized it and "determined it to be lawful" (which he did), then they are immune from all accountability and consequences -- even if what they did (as a federal judge already found) was clearly illegal and even if (as the federal court also found) they knew it was illegal.

Under this bill, the Attorney General simply instructs the court (in secret) that the President ordered the telecoms' actions and found them to be legal, and -- like magic -- all of the pending court proceedings disappear immediately, along with any real hope of investigating how our Government spied on us for the last five years or obtaining a judicial determination as to whether they broke the law (although, at least in theory: "nothing in the bill provides retrospective immunity for government officials for their actions, nor to companies outside the specified timeframe").

Thus, decrees the Senate Intelligence Committee (following in The Weekly Standard's footsteps), when the President orders you to do something, it is Right to obey, even if what the President orders is against the law. Things like "law" and what Goldfarb calls "the whimsy of our judicial system" (what was previously called "the rule of law") are now relegated to the fringe unserious "Left," no longer something we can afford to indulge in our Epic, Endless War for Our Freedoms and Our Way of Life.

UPDATE: Wired's Ryan Singel provides an excellent analysis of the tidal wave of cash from telecoms that has suddenly poured into Jay Rockefeller's coffers over the last year. At exactly the time when telecoms need amnesty from Jay Rockefeller, unusually large amounts of cash flow from telecoms to Rockefeller, and lawbreaking amnesty then flows back from Rockefeller to the cash-providing telecoms. While there may be theoretical deniability as to causation, it is just factually true that this is what happened.

On a separate note, the dominant media narrative on the Intelligence Committee's bill shows the importance of what Sen. Dodd did yesterday. Ordinarily, an overwhelming bipartisan vote of this type would lead to the storyline that enactment of the bill is inevitable. But Dodd's "hold," along with some commendable (and successful) maneuvering by Feingold and Wyden to attach amendments unacceptable to the White House, have resulted in a "bill-faces-trouble" storyline rather than "passage-is-all-but-assured."

There is still a real opportunity to derail telecom amnesty, though it will require ongoing and focused efforts. Dodd's actions yesterday are the start, not the finish (Jane Hamsher, for instance, looks at what might be the efforts of Harry Reid to sabotage the Dodd hold, as well as the decent but not particularly inspiring statement from Barack Obama on this matter). There are multiple pressure points and mechanisms available to prevent amnesty (in both the Senate and House), but derailing these sorts of bipartisan Beltway establishment deals -- greased by corporate cash, the standard roster of lobbyists, Terrorist fear-mongering, and establishment pundit cheerleading -- is always difficult.

By Glenn Greenwald

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